Mississippi is closer to becoming the second state, behind Arizona, to adopt education savings accounts, which allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses. Those funds can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, college costs, and other higher education expenses.
Today the Mississippi Senate passed HB765, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Crawford (R). The sections below represent key parameters of this education savings accounts (ESA) proposal.
Each student’s ESA shall be funded at $6,000 each year. The program is limited to a maximum of 500 students in the first two years, 600 in the third and fourth years, and 700 thereafter.
To be eligible, students must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and have been previously enrolled in a Mississippi public school for at least six months in the year prior to their initial participation in the program or attending a Mississippi public school for the first time. The Friedman Foundation estimates that 11 percent of public K–12 students would be eligible for ESAs. (Counting all K–12 students in the state, 10 percent would be eligible).
REGULATIONS ON PROVIDERS
The legislation requires participating schools to 1) comply with health and safety laws that apply to nonpublic schools, 2) hold a valid occupancy permit if required by their municipality, 3) offer students the option of taking a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, 4) comply with nondiscrimination policies in 42 USC § 1981, and 5) conduct criminal background check on employees, excluding anyone who might reasonably pose a threat or who is not permitted to work in a nonpublic school.
NEXT STEPS FOR MISSISSIPPI ESAS
The bill that passed the Senate today has a “reverse repealer” clause that effectively requires the legislation to go to conference committee. Lawmakers from both chambers will agree upon a single version, which then will be voted on again by both the House and Senate. Should Mississippi ESAs pass both chambers, it will head to Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who, in the past two years, has signed two private school choice voucher measures into law.
UPDATE – December 10, 2015
This bill was signed into law on April 16, 2015. For more details on the history of the program, click here. To learn more about the program’s details, click here. For the most up-to-date program information, including program eligibility and participation, click here.